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|The Haunted Bookshop||Christopher Morley|
The Battle of Ludlow Street
|Page 3 of 7||
"How do you do, sir," he said. "I'm sorry, I had forgotten our appointment."
"He must be very absent minded," thought Roger. "Arranges to sell a collection worth half a million, and forgets all about it."
"I came over in response to your message," he said. "About selling your collection."
Mr. Oldham looked at him, rather intently, Roger thought.
"Do you want to buy it?" he said.
"To buy it?" said Roger, a little peevishly. "Why, no. I came over to appraise it for you. Your secretary telephoned me on Saturday."
"My dear sir," replied the other, "there must be some mistake. I have no intention of selling my collection. I never sent you a message."
Roger was aghast.
"Why," he exclaimed, "your secretary called me up on Saturday and said you particularly wanted me to come over this morning, to examine your books with you. I've made the trip from Brooklyn for that purpose."
Mr. Oldham touched a buzzer, and a middle-aged woman came into the office. "Miss Patterson," he said, "did you telephone to Mr. Mifflin of Brooklyn on Saturday, asking him----"
"It was a man that telephoned," said Roger.
"I'm exceedingly sorry, Mr. Mifflin," said Mr. Oldham. "More sorry than I can tell you--I'm afraid someone has played a trick on you. As I told you, and Miss Patterson will bear me out, I have no idea of selling my books, and have never authorized any one even to suggest such a thing."
Roger was filled with confusion and anger. A hoax on the part of some of the Corn Cob Club, he thought to himeslf. He flushed painfully to recall the simplicity of his glee.
"Please don't be embarrassed," said Mr. Oldham, seeing the little man's vexation. "Don't let's consider the trip wasted. Won't you come out and dine with me in the country this evening, and see my things?"
But Roger was too proud to accept this balm, courteous as it was.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm afraid I can't do it. I'm rather busy at home, and only came over because I believed this to be urgent."
"Some other time, perhaps," said Mr. Oldham. "Look here, you're a bookseller? I don't believe I know your shop. Give me your card. The next time I'm in New York I'd like to stop in."
Roger got away as quickly as the other's politeness would let him. He chafed savagely at the awkwardness of his position. Not until he reached the street again did he breathe freely.
"Some of Jerry Gladfist's tomfoolery, I'll bet a hat," he muttered. "By the bones of Fanny Kelly, I'll make him smart for it."
Even Aubrey, picking up the trail again, could see that Roger was angry.
"Something's got his goat," he reflected. "I wonder what he's peeved about?"
They crossed Broad Street and Roger started off down Chestnut. Aubrey saw the bookseller halt in a doorway to light his pipe, and stopped some yards behind him to look up at the statue of William Penn on the City Hall. It was a blustery day, and at that moment a gust of wind whipped off his hat and sent it spinning down Broad Street. He ran half a block before he recaptured it. When he got back to Chestnut, Roger had disappeared. He hurried down Chestnut Street, bumping pedestrians in his eagerness, but at Thirteenth he halted in dismay. Nowhere could he see a sign of the little bookseller. He appealed to the policeman at that corner, but learned nothing. Vainly he scoured the block and up and down Juniper Street. It was eleven o'clock, and the streets were thronged.
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